31 December 2012

Bring Out Your Dead: 2012 Roundup of Lost New York City Landmarks

Every year since I began this blog has seemed like a bad year for New York landmarks, with too many classic restaurants, bars and stores falling under the steamroller of progress. But somehow 2012 feels like one of the worst. Maybe that's because of the exceeding quality of the places that have closed. Any year that includes the exit of such irreplaceable establishments as Bill's Gay Nineties, Prime Burger, Donovan's Pub, Lascoff Drugs, Colony Music and Manganaro Grosseria Italiana has to be counted a black year. So, here is the final sad and sorrowful tally. 

Final Images of the Lost Lenox Lounge

Harlem's historic Lenox Lounge—Manhattan cradle of jazz and deco—closes on Dec. 31. A circumstance of infinite regret. If you didn't make it up there during the boite's last weeks, please enjoy these photos from my final visit.

28 December 2012

Heimesch Coffee Shop

The individuality of New York's many neighborhood is one of the City's great strengths. Only in Orthodox Jewish Borough Park (and maybe a couple other areas) would the coffee shop arm of a gas station be called the Heimesche Coffee Shop. For those who don't know their Yiddish, Heimesch (also spelled Haimish) means cozy or homey. This particular coffee shop doesn't look very cozy. But what the hell. It's the intention, right?

27 December 2012

Harvey's Chelsea House Remembered by Readers

I posted last week about the bygone Olde New York restaurant Harvey's Chelsea House. Since then, a couple readers have shared their memories of the place. This has been gratifying, as I had assumed that nobody remembered the place. (I've never seen it written about since it closed twenty years ago.)

Maximum Bob wrote:

This used to be my main hangout. I used to work out at a gym a block away and would hit the bar afterwards for a burger and a beer. It was an elegant, grownup place. The night before I got married, my best friends and I came here for dinner and drinks.This was the 80's. I will never forget Harvey's and that time in general. If I could go back in time I would jettison this age of mediocrity in a nanosecond.
And Lionel said: 
It was a great place with one of the finest bars I spent time bellying up to. It had two old fashioned cash registers that were functioning and used. Some very talented artist did an oil painting that depicted the bar and was beautifully accurate. I was heartbroken when it was no more. I would occasionally see the actress Sandy Dennis in the back having a sandwich. Interestingly, many of the bartenders, and or owners, always referred to the bars that they worked at as ‘the store,’ kind of a holdover from old New York. It was a truly beautiful barroom.
Sandy Dennis was a regular?! I love the memory of the place even more now.

26 December 2012

A Perfect Storefront: Elias Shoe Repair & Shine

It's a bit a of given in my universe that shoe repair shops often make for perfect storefronts—because they are compact; because they pack a lot of visual stimuli in their windows and doors; and because they rarely change over the decades (there is little business incentive to refurbish such a humble business.) Elias Shoe Repair is on W. 72nd Street on the Upper West Side.

24 December 2012

Christmas in Kensington

This rather elaborate display of lit up angels and trees lines the borders of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Kensington. It's quite a sight at night.

21 December 2012

Scary Christmas

The residents of Cobble Hill know well the house on the corner of Kane and Strong Place's habit of impaling dozens of small jack o'lanterns of the spikes of its wrap-around cast iron fence every Halloween. And they know how the owners of that house leave the pumpkins there to slowly decompose as the days dwindle down to a precious few. Jack and his brothers are looking pretty haunting these days, some eight weeks after Oct. 31. Still, I'd like to put a Santa hat on each and every one of them.

Gargiulo's at Christmastime

I recently went down to Gargiulo's, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, to show some support and have a meal. The century-old restaurant was shuttered for a few weeks, after flood waters soaked the property, which lies just a block from the boardwalk in Coney Island. The lobby was deluged and the water reached as high as a foot above the elevated dining room. But the owners worked fast to open up, not wanting to lose out on holiday business.

The lobby bar is still under renovation, hidden behind a wall. This gives the foyer a more truncated look, taking away from the expansive feel you expect at Gargiulo's. But the dining room is in full working order, complete with lavish Christmas decorations. The service and food was excellent, as always.

19 December 2012

A Good Sign: Gramercy Cafe

Get rid of the awning. The neon sign is all this cafe needs. In Gramercy Park.

18 December 2012

Remembering Harvey's Chelsea House

Back in the early '90s, when I was a non-blogging, budding sentimentalist, I worked for a time at a horrible theatre trade magazine in the Flatiron District. (It wasn't called that at the time.) In my attempts to distance myself from my boss and duties, I would use my lunch hour to range as far from my office as possible.

I remember frequently passing an old restaurant at 108 W. 18th Street which has a grand, vertical, three-story sign that said "Harvey's." Peering in, I saw a long bar, high ceilings, tile floors, beveled glass and a dining room in the back. It was one of my first impressions of what was meant by the term Olde New York.

I didn't know much about the place, and soon thereafter it closed for good. I have been obsessed with the joint every sense. Recently I decided to find out more about the restaurant that still haunts my memory. It was worth the inquiry. 

When Harvey's Chelsea House closed in December 1991, it was 102 years old. A man named Dick Harvey had owned it for its final 16 years of its existence. He told the New York Times that taxes, insurance and utility costs, compounded by a bad economy, had forced him to close. 

Harvey's Chelsea House opened in 1889 as a kind of dark-wooded, manly eatery that was prevalent and popular at that time. It was finely appointed. It had a 40-foot bar of red, burled, Honduras mahogany, crystal cabinetwork, a brass clock and rear cabinets of bevelled glass. I'm not sure what it was called back then—it seems to have been called the Old Chelsea Restaurant at some point—but certainly not Harvey's Chelsea House. Dick Harvey took over the location in 1977. He, at the time, also managed 0'Neal's Balloon, had reopened the Landmark Tavern, and had a reputation as "the fastest bartender who has ever worked New York," according to The New Yorker. Harvey refinished the mahogany and added five chandeliers and an historic display of bar-and-res-taurant glassware. (That means that the "old" sign outside I admire so much was no older than 14 years when I saw it.)

After Harvey gave up the fight, the place remained closed for a while, then was reopened as Tonic by one Steve Tzolis, the principal owner of Il Cantinori, Periyali and Aureole, all restaurants in Manhattan. 

A newspaper described the new incarnation thusly: "I figured the owners would simply rip it apart and sell the fixtures and that if it ever reopened, it would be painted white. So it was a wonderful surprise to walk in on a recent night to find the place looking much as I remembered, only better. (It has been spruced up and is now a warm red.) It is also a scene. Young executives in pinstriped business suits, guys in white T-shirts and bikers’ jackets, lithe young women in jeans or black dresses were packed several deep at the bar, and they weren’t all just waiting for tables. The maĆ®tre d’ led me away from this merry throng into the room next door, which, although full and lively, seemed quiet by comparison. It was like being sent to sit with the grown-ups. My friends were already at the table."

Tonic didn't take. The building was torn down in 2006. What became of the beautiful bar, the mahogany, the cast iron, the glass, the brass? Junked or broken up and sold.

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to The Lenox Lounge?"

The news that Harlem's iconic Lenox Lounge would close on Dec. 31 sent me out to the legendary boite for my latest "Who Goes There?" column. It's a first for the column in a way, in that few people think of the place as a restaurant; it's a jazz club first and foremost. However, they do serve full meals in the Zebra Room in the back.

Here's the article: 

17 December 2012

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Loeser's Deli?"

My Nov. 30 "Who Goes There?" column for Eater took me to The Bronx for only the third time in the history of the feature. Here's the piece:

10 December 2012

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: More Irving Street Shots

Here are some more shots of the vanished Brooklyn waterfront road called Irving Street, all courtesy of Freebird Books.

08 December 2012

Statues at Times Square's "Show Folks Shoe Shop" to Be Restored!

Last week, I posted an item about how the four statues that adorned Times Square's century-old I. Miller shoe store building had disappeared. The address is to be occupied by the Express clothing chain in the future, and there was some question as to whether the corporation would restore the two-story stone building's unique facade to its former glory—including the figures depicting Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Marilyn Miller and Rosa Ponselle in their most famous roles.

A women in the preservation community contacted me and said she would look into the matter. She wrote back with this good news:
I did find out that the building is being restored - by a VERY good firm. And that the sculptures have been taken down to be cleaned, repaired and re-installed - once restoration is completed. So...and I can't believe I am going to say this...but it appears that EXPRESS is doing the right thing. And doing the great building the honor it deserves.
Following Sandy, and the closure of Stage Deli, and the imminent closing of the Lenox Lounge, this is the best news I've heard in weeks.

07 December 2012

A Change of Sign at Tout Va Bien

I'm not sure when this happened—probably some time ago—but Tout Va Bien, the old school French hold-out in Hell's Kitchen, has changed its neon sign. The classic original sign (above) has been removed, and a reasonable facsimile (below) has been put in its place. The new one's not bad, but not nearly as charming. It lacks the handmade quality of the original. The font is more ordinary. Most significantly, they've going from two colors to one.

I imagine the old sign just died one night and a replacement was required.

06 December 2012

A Good Sign: Columbia Florist

A family-owned florist on 231st Street in Riverdale, The Bronx, Columbia has been in the neighborhood for decades. The newer awning does nothing for me, but the older sign on top does.

05 December 2012

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: More Irving Street Images

Earlier this fall, I started posted selected images from a cache of old photos of Columbia Street that were uncovered by Freebird Books, a local used book store. The photos dated from the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the more interesting shots depicted Irving Street, an old, two-block waterfront street that has since been demapped.

The proprietor of Freebird recently scanned and uploaded a new set of the photo collection. (There are many more to come. Freebird owns all the photos I post here.) Among there are a variety of shots of Irving Street. Two of them are seen here. The one above, from the 1970s, gives you a pretty good idea of what the expanse and character of Irving was, despite the damage to the photo. Pretty breathtaking how the road stretched right down to the river.

As the owner of Freebird says in his caption: "By the late '60s it was essentially a quiet cul de sac for the Puerto Rican community, a backdrop for events and sports activities. The reclamation of a large empty lot on the street's northern side is chronicled in these photos, as well as other attempts (like mural paintings) to beautify other abandoned buildings."

The photo seen below is from 1964 and depicts a parade of sorts.

04 December 2012

Another Great One Gone: Lenox Lounge to Close

One of the greatest and most lasting landmarks in Harlem—Hell, the whole city!—will be lost Dec. 31 when the famous Lenox Lounge closes its doors.

Owner Alvin Reed, who brought the historic jazz boite back from the dead in 1988, declined to renew his leave when the landlord—guess what?—doubled the rent. Guess the greedy landlord saw the gleaming Red Rooster down the block and figured he should be getting richer than he was. Reed owns the rights to the name, so the new tenants will reopen it as the Notar Jazz Club. Richie Notar is the managing partner in the Nobu Restaurants group, will be taking over the space.

"If they want to use Lenox Lounge, they will have to negotiate with me," said Reed. "I brought it back and I want to see it stay there. I want to keep the legacy alive. I am Lenox Lounge, and I will be Lenox Lounge for quite some time. And if they want Lenox Lounge, they want me."

Every jazz great played Lenox back in the day. The interior is a living museum. I was there just a few months ago. Few spaces in New York can match the magic of that art deco interior. When a good combo is playing, and couples are chatting and drinking, the scene is classic cosmopolitan urbanity at its finest. It takes little effort to imagine life in New York during its post-WWII heyday.

Silver Lining of Bill's Gay 90s Renovation

Loath as we are to admit it, there is a slight silver lining to the old Bill's Gay 90s space's recent transformation into the fancier Bill's Food & Drink. As you may recall, when the former owner's lease was not renewed earlier this year, she took all the historical artifacts inside the bar with her—posters, pictures, even the joint's two old bars. All gone. The new owners had no choice but to recreate an oldish-looking interior. But, in restoring the anteroom outside the bar, they uncovered an old mural that had been hidden for decades. Apparently the mural was revealed when the original owners were taking down the pictures that hung there; not even they knew it was there. It's a collection of whimsical ads for liquor brands, painted as if they were posted on a brick wall somewhere. Based on the brands featured—Ballantines, Ambassadors—it probably dates from the 1930s and 1940s, when those whiskeys were more popular. The slogans ("A Sure Hangover") poke fun at the liquors.

A Good Sign: Cambridge Podiatry Center

Nice blocky letters. Plain and simple, yet it has a style. Like the whole storefront, too, with the yellow brick and venetian blinds.

02 December 2012

The Show Folk on the Show Folks' Shoe Shop Disappear

A few months ago, the news unrolled that the retailer Express was going to take over the old I. Miller show store in Times Square. A few folks expressed the hope that this might mean the unusual building might finally be refurbished. The previous tenant, TGI Friday's, had never given a damn about the century-old, landmarked structure, with its quartet of statues of famous performers—Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Marilyn Miller and Rosa Ponselle—from the 1920s.

A Stage Deli Memory From 1969

The Stage Deli in midtown Manhattan closed last Thursday after 75 years in business, the victim of rent hikes and a bad economy. To show how much New York character the place had, enjoy the New York Times write-up from July 5, 1969:
Jewish waiters—who are used to giving the orders—turned polite and deferred to astonished customers yesterday.
It was Independence Day, and the independent Jewish waiter marked the day in the most signal of ways, with a startling change of face.
It has been said that Israel won the Six-Day War by putting guns into the hands of Jewish waiters—but yesterday they laid down their arms. Snarls were out; smiles were in. Waiters grown irascible on endless chopped liver and chicken soup beamed with good nature. From every pore oozed the sour cream of human kindness....
At the Stage Delicatessen on Seventh Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets, a waiter tried earnestly to explain the startling change. "It's Independence Day," he said brightly, "and who could be more independent than the Jewish waiter?"...
But it was difficult. When a customer asked a waiter at the Stage why he wasn't wearing a name badge, he replied: "Why should I wear my name? Everybody calls me names, anyway."...
A policeman who walked into the Stage Delicatessen looked incredulously about him at the strangely happy multitude. Then the manage said playfully, "You're under arrest."
"All right," said the man in blue, "as long as you keep me in here."

30 November 2012

Stage Deli Closes After 75 Years

This just in from the New York Times:
At midnight on Thursday, the Stage Deli, a landmark New York institution that got its start 75 years ago, closed its doors.
“It’s a sad day for New York,” said Paul Zolenge, who has owned the deli, on Seventh Avenue near 54th Street, with Steve Auerbach for 26 years. “We’ve been struggling to make it through these hard times.”
Mr. Zolenge cited the cost of doing business in New York. The landlord erected scaffolding in front of the restaurant a year ago, he said, and even though it came down in September, “we lost a whole year.” The rent had gone up several times in recent years, Mr. Zolenge said, and with the lease ending in a few months, he and Mr. Auerbach were expecting another increase. “We just couldn’t afford to keep it going any more,” he said.
The deli, known for its overstuffed sandwiches named for celebrities, usually in show business, was started by Max Asnas in 1937. Mr. Asnas sold it to Jimmy Richter, and Mr. Zolenge became involved through family connections. “My father-in-law, who has been a silent partner, bought it in 1978, and after a few years, I took it over,” he said.
Over the decades, the competition between the Stage Deli and the nearby Carnegie Deli, a similarly famous spot that opened the same year as the Stage, has been fierce. Mr. Zolenge speculated that someone might come along to buy his restaurant’s name.
“This has been very hard for everyone to put an end to an institution,” he said, noting that the same had happened recently to several other Midtown old-timers. “Ben Benson’s closed, and Gallagher’s is closing, too.”
I profiled the deli in "Who Goes There?" back in 2011.

Whither Rockaway's Tap & Grill?

The Tap & Grill was a holdout—maybe the only holdout remaining—from bygone Rockaway days, when the neighborhood was a Coney Island-like beach destination. I visited it for the first time in September 2011 for a "Who Goes There?" column. What with Hurricane Sandy hitting Rockaway pretty hard, I got to thinking about it. Did it survive?

Turns out, the business was sold before Sandy hit. Rockawayist reported that it was "sold to a Manhattan-based private real estate investment firm. Cayuga Capital, known for reviving near-failed residential projects in Williamsburg has acquired the mixed-use property. According to Cayuga's website, the 5,000 square feet of retail space will be converted to a bar and restaurant. A call to the New York State Liquor Authority confirmed that a liquor license for that location is pending in the name of Rockaway Restaurant Co. LLC, which lists Cayuga partner Jamie Wiseman as a principal. But more interestingly, the Cayuga website also indicates that 8 residential apartments in the building, totaling an additional 2,050 square feet, will be converted to Rockaway’s first boutique hotel since….ever?"

So, that's interesting. And depressing. The old clam bar, also known as "Boggie's," was so rangy and ramshackle. Utterly charming. Not bad chowder, either. The joint closed in August.

That makes seven "Who Goes There?" subjects that have closed, as well as one that's about to close, a few that have been temporarily shuttered by Sandy, and one that was just gutted by fire. This is not to mention places that closed—El Faro, Bill's Gay 90s—before I could feature them in the column. For anyone out there who's counting.

UPDATE: Make that eight. Stage Deli is to close next week.

Carving Your Name in the Fallen Tree Trunk

The trunk of the old Carroll Park tree that was felled by Hurricane Sandy on the south side of the park still lays there. A parks worker told me they were going to remove it, and the metal fence it crushed, soon. In the meantime, locals are making the best out of a bad situation. Some have stopped to count the rings (just as I did a while back). 126 rings, they insist. Others are using it as if it were still a standing tree on some lover's lane. No one's been as industrious as to carve their names in the trunk, but they have used magic marker. Kinda sweet. "Yeah," observed the parks worker. "Some people gotta lot of imagination."

Merry Christmas From Red Hook

A couple weeks ago, when I did a post-Sandy tour of Red Hook, I expressed dismay when I saw a familiar old storefront on Van Brunt covered in plywood. The ancient, long-defunct shop had always served as a living museum, its window displays full of antiques. And during the holidays, it was always decked out in its evergreen fineness. I despaired the the store would fulfill its yuletide goal this year. So I was happy to see this sight the other day. Way to bounce back, Red Hook.

29 November 2012

The Jeweler Browns of The Bronx

The slender, old-fashioned-looking Brown's Jewelry & Gifts is indicative of the kind of store you find all over the older parts of Riverdale. I'm not sure if it's because of the challenges posed by the area's hilly terrain, but many shops here take up relatively little real estate. Because of this, Riverdale sometimes resembles an old English town or, at the very least, a New York of sixty years back.

Brown's traces its history back to the days following World War II, when B. Brown's Jewelers was orininally located at Westchester Square. That location still exists. This Riverdale Avenue location seems to have been founded in 1997. I'm guessing the sign (not the awning) dates from the original location. set the focus for today's Riverdale location.

That history notwithstanding, I found a Jan. 1, 1924, article in the New York Times about a holdup at a Bronx jewelry store owned by Bernard B. Brown. This Brown was a tough old bird. Three robbers stormed his shop on Tremont Avenue and demanded he open the safe. He refused, slamming the safe shut, and leaping over the counter to grapple with the main gunman. The other two were so startled that they fled. The robber managed to free his gun hand and deliver three bullets into Brown's gut and run to his getaway car. Several people heard the ruckus, including a taxi driver, and gave chase, but they lost the robber's trail.

Brown, meanwhile, was rushed to Fordham Hospital. A detective asked the jeweler if he know he was going to die. "I'm not going to die," protested Brown. "I'm going to be all right." Then he died. 

Could this Brown somehow be related to the Browns that opened up the Westchester Square shop twenty years later? The article said he lived with his wife and three children. 

28 November 2012

Four Season Cleaner's Past Season

A peek under the plastic awning of the nondescript Four Seasons Cleaners on Church Avenue in Borough Park reveals that it was once the much-more-interesting Steve -N-Allen French Cleaners. Fantastic sign, particularly the way the "French" is incorporated into the "C."

The best part of the signage, however, is this little guy, a tailor with slicked-back black hair ready to serve you. Something's been covered up above and below the tailor, probably advertisements of services that are no longer provided.

The Saddest Looking Post Office in NYC

Who would have guessed its in posh-ish Riverdale in The Bronx? But there it is to see, with only half of its letters: the Verdale S Tion of the Ted Stat S Po Of. I know the US Postal Service has its woes, but c'mon guys.

27 November 2012

Remembering the Victims of Sandy

Reading the Eater coverage of the number of NYC restaurants still closed because of Hurricane Sandy boggles the mind. So many classic, priceless destinations. Hundreds of years of New York history. All hanging in the balance. It's a cultural catastrophe.

The list of closures made me think of the wonderful times I've had at many of these restaurants and bars. An alarming number of the victims are former "Who Goes There?" subjects, including Randazzo's Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay, Gargiulo's in Coney Island, and Capsouto Freres in Tribeca, not to mention favorites like Totonno's pizzeria and Sunny's Bar. If you have the time, take a look at these past columns and remember what's great and irreplaceable about these places. Then, when they manage to reopen, patronize them. Order a lot of food and leave big tips.

The Cornice of a Cornice Maker

I was walking down 13th Avenue in upper Borough Park when I looked up at the cornice of an old building. Because that's what I do—look up at cornices. You often find clues about the history of the structure up there, the date of erection or the name of the builder.

This time I saw something I'd never seen before. The words on the cornice indicated that this had once been the address of...a cornice maker! The Brooklyn Union Cornice and Roofing Company, to be exact. There's something mind-bending about seeing a cornice maker's cornice, I've got to tell you.

Cornice making was enough of a booming concern in the 19th century that the practitioners had their own union. The Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers' International Association for formed in 1888, largely through the efforts of Robert Kellerstrass, who had started a similar local outfit in Peoria. The union joined the ALF in 1889. It's welcome was short, however. The Panic of 1893 weakened the union's finances, and the AFL revoked its charter in 1896. It reformed as the Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' International Association and was rechartered by the AFL in 1899. No more "Cornice" in the title. 

When I first saw this building, I thought it had been a place where the cornices were made. But it's not a very large structure, and not suited to the creation of cornices, which are not tiny things. So I now this this was perhaps once the home of one of the Locals of the bygone cornice workers' union. 

26 November 2012

A Perfect Storefront: Vacuum World

Vacuum stores are as rare as hen's teeth these days. So Vacuum World just tries harder!

You could spend half a day reading all the signage on the facade of this Riverdale shop. I love how they have the logos of every major vacuum maker on the main sign. (I have a Miele myself.) And vacuum-specific neon! Want to know how old the place is? Get ready. 74 years. Founded in 1938, which before the appliances became common sights in every household.

The current owner, for 47 years, is Len Morse, "a long-time, accomplished martial artist with 6 training videos to his credit. This hobby has given him the disipline to manage a successful store that continually exceeds customer expectations through unparalleled service." Wild. 

Sarge's Deli Gutted By Fire

Last night, Sarge's Deli in Murray Hill was gutted by fire. Eater reports: "The fire spread quickly through the ventilation ducts of the building into the apartments above the restaurant. Over 150 firefighters rushed to the scene." NYPD Deputy Chief Thomas McKavanagh told the Daily News, "The restaurant sustained some severe damage and will not be open for a while."

Along with Katz's, Stage and Carnegie, Sarge's is one of the oldest and most authentic Jewish delis in Manhattan. I profiled the place in this 2010 "Who Goes There?" column.

Classic Skyview Deli in Riverdale Closes

Even as the classic kosher delis of New York have closed one by one, Riverdale has remained a deli haven, the home of no less than three Jewish delis: Liebman's, Loeser's, and Skyview. And not kosher-style, but actually kosher! The real thing. Not a one of them less than fifty years of age.

Now it is the home of two. On a recent visit, I discovered that Skyview had closed. I quizzed three merchants on the ancient strip mall that used to home Skyview and none of them knew exactly when the business had closed. One said a year ago; one said six months ago; one said two months ago. None knew why the family eatery had shuttered.

25 November 2012

A Good Sign: PItta Funeral Home

The Pitta Funeral Home is on McDonald Avenue in the Kensington section on Brooklyn. They are to be applauded not only for their jazzy two-font main signage, but the style with which the print their address on the front, glass, double doors. Pitta was founded in 1951. Funny story about the place can be read here.

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving, one of the two days of the year when I hate Bloomberg the most and deplore the many ways he's ruined the City. One day is the Fourth of July, when I fume and grit my teeth over his idiotic decision to move the fireworks display from the East River—where folks from Manhattan, Brookyn and Queens can enjoy it—to the Hudson, where it benefits people on Riverside Drive and New Jersey.

I rant and rave on Thanksgiving when reminded how he destroyed decades of tradition by rerouting the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade down Sixth Avenue, all to make way for his hideous, human-trailer parks in Times Square. Only a mayor born in Boston wouldn't understand that the East River is the New Yorkiest of rivers and Broadway is the New Yorkiest of street, and those are the places where you stage important New York events.

Anyway, to remind yourself how things were, here are some photos of old parades. Ah, for the days when gigantic fish and Uncle Sam balloons were enough to delight the kiddies. No inflatables connected to films, video  games or toys.

20 November 2012

Edith Wharton Was Unhappy Here

I'm always tickled, as I walk down W. 25th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, that St. Sava's Cathedral still stands. Not that I think of it as St. Sava's. I think of it as Trinity Chapel. Because that is the name of the Gramercy-area church where Edith Wharton, one of my favorite novelists, was (unhappily, as it turned out) married to Edward Robbins Wharton. (Wharton's mother lived across the street, where the wedding breakfast was held.) That betrothal happened in 1885, when the church, built by Richard Upjohn (Trinity Church downtown and Christ Church in Cobble Hill), was already 34 years old. Wharton mentioned the church in her great novel "The Age of Innocence."

The Story of the Te-Amo Cigar Sign, a New York Icon

I've always enjoyed spotting one of these Te-Amo Cigar signs over a New York deli, newsstand or bodega. But they are getting rarer, as storeowners take them down and replace them with awnings, or as the businesses shutter and are replaced with boutiques and restaurants.

Te-Amo is a brand of Mexican cigar. Like Knox Hats in the world of habidashery, and Coca-Cola in the worlds of pharmacies and diners, Te-Amo once found an effective way to advertise its products by volunteering to buy signs for small, independent businesses. (Optimo cigar signs were also once a common sight. Optimo is an American-made cigar.)

Te-Amo cigars are made by Mexico's largest cigar maker, Nueva Matacapan Tabacos S.A, which has been run by five generations of the Turrent family. As you might guess, the Te-Amo brand exploded in the U.S. following President Kennedy's embargo on all things Cuban, and grew into a leading U.S. brand. Prior to 1960, the company sold most of its tobacco to Europe; after 1960, they began doing business with the U.S. The Te-Amo brand was created in 1966. That is when most of the Te-Amo store signs went up.

Alberto Turrent said in an interview with Cigar Aficionado: "Te-Amo [was a separate partnership that] had a warehouse in New Jersey. [At] the beginning it was in Miami—it didn't work. They had two partners, and one of the partners moved from Miami to New York. The best sales [for Te-Amo] were in the New York area....[The New York partner] died, and we bought the company in 1972."

Turrent further commented: "At one point we had 170 stores around the New York City area selling the cigars... [It was] mostly a New York cigar. In the '70s, about 60 percent of our sales [of the Te-Amo brand] came from New York."

170 stores! How many are left today? Without knowing what Te-Amo signs might be hiding in parts of The Bronx, Staten Island and Queens, I'd guess about a couple dozen.

I am not a big cigar smoker, but I enjoy a stogie a few times a year. I have not overly liked the Te-Amos I've tried in the U.S. But today the brand is also sold in Mexico. I can attest to the fact that the Te-Amos sold below the border are excellent cigars. 

19 November 2012

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Dominick's?"

My latest "Who Goes There?" column for Eater takes me back to The Bronx's Belmont neighborhood for the first time since I visited Mario's two years ago. As chance would have it, Dominick's is right across the street from Mario's. Between those two times, I managed to get to Liebman's Deli in Riverdale. Next time, maybe Morris Park or City Island.
Who Goes There? Dominick's Restaurant
An old Italian lady gets out of her car on Arthur Avenue. With her is a woman on crutches. She is younger but somehow less spry. "So, where shall we eat?" asks the younger woman. "Well," says the old lady in a voice of authority, "there's Dominick's—that's one."
There's Dominick's. The Arthur Avenue area of the Bronx boasts many fine, and not so fine, Italian restaurants. But when you think of the street, a few names pop up immediately and always: Mario's, Roberto's, and Dominick's. I've had good food at all three, but at Dominick's you also get an experience. It is one of those New York eating institutions with its own don't-ask-just-eat way of doing things. Basically a Roman tavola calde removed to The Bronx, seating is communal and—if you're not a regular who long ago memorized the bill of fare—you have to rely on the waiter to find out what was cookin'. Prices remain a mystery until the waiter announces how much you owe at the end of the meal. And you pay in cash; no cards accepted.
Things have changed a bit in the past year or so. There actually is a single menu now, with prices, displayed outside the restaurant. "We put it there last year," explained my waiter. "That way, people who don't know can study it and figure out what they want before they come in." Exactly what I did. Others, however, weren't so happy about the change. As a large group of thirtysomething men—obviously natives of the neighborhood returning for a visit—filed in, one spotted the menu. "Prices?!" he snorted in disbelief. "When did that happen?"
If you ignore the menu and sit down not knowing what you want, be prepared for the waiter to unroll his spiel. "You like pasta? We got got pasta with white clam sauce, with red clam sauce. We've got chicken scarpariello, chicken marsala, chicken francese. You want veal? Veal parmigiana, veal picatta, veal sorrentino, veal and potatoes." He'll keep going until to pick something. Often, uninitiated diners just give in and have the waiter decide. He usually chooses well.
I knew what I wanted: Linguini all Gianni (with diced shrimp and clams, one of the best pasta dishes in the city), and sides of sausage and broccoli rabe. All were delicious, and I couldn't finish any of it; portions are huge. The wine ("red"—no other specifications) came in a juice glass, and the espresso came in the same sort of glass. Neither were good, but I loved the way they were served.
Dominick's, which is run by Charlie DiPaolo, was founded on the location it now occupies about 50 years ago. Old photos show a sweet wood-marble-and-tile place that looks more like a cafe, and was called Caputo's. Stools, tea tables, big coffee urn. That place is gone. The relatively charmless interior of today is one of generic artwork and everyday decor. (Specifics on the joint's history are hard to find.)
The place is routinely packed, with both locals, and, more commonly, people who used to be locals and now make a point of eating there whenever they're back in the borough or back in the city. Celebrities often stop by on their way back from attending a Yankees game (Adam Sandler) or playing in one (A-Rod). Based on the faces of the non-famous diners, you'd think that Arthur Avenue was still a purely Italian-American community. That said, there is some diversity among the clientele, and all are made welcome. Even an obvious non-Bronxer like myself. "$39," said my waiter when I asked to settle up. I left the money on the table. "So, I guess we'll see you again, huh?" he said as I reached for the door. Yes, I guess you will. 
—Brooks of Sheffield

18 November 2012

Lost City: Louisville Edition: Dizzy Whizz

Every city in America has a locally treasured monument to greasy cuisine. In Louisville, it is the Dizzy Whizz, a wonderfully named, one-of-a-kind, fast-food joint that has lit up a desolate block on West St. Catherine Street since 1947.

15 November 2012

Bill's Gay 90s Sign Removed

UPDATE: I've learned that the sign is back up. It was taken down for repairs, and then returned to its old position.


The large, gold Bill's Gay 90s sign—the last remnant of the E. 54th Street former speakeasy that closed last March after nearly a century in business—was removed form the facade of the building today. A reader sent me the above photo. All the other old artifacts—the old bar, the pictures on the wall, etc.—that once made up the joint's character, were taken away by the former owner. The restaurant that will replace it, called Bill's Food & Drink, is scheduled to open next week.

Fallen Carroll Park Tree Finally Attended To

My, but I'm posting a lot about the fallen trees in Carroll Park. But maybe that's because they're still there, just where Hurricane Sandy left them nearly three weeks ago.

Finally, trucks and workman arrived today to begin the task of carving up the largest of the felled trees, the one that toppled inside the park, taking a chain-link fence with it. This is the tree that has caused the park to be closed since Sandy. Maybe now that it has been largely attended to, the park can be reopened. One hopes.